Saturday, November 28, 2009

What it takes to join the circus

What does it take to join the circus?

A couple of things.

1. Dedication.

2. An insane amount of patience.

3. A disappearing ego (it appears onstage, then disappears offstage).

4. The belief that living in a warehouse or industrial sector and making your way completely with whatever amenities you are given or can provide yourself with is romantic.

5. Know-how of what it takes to make money, but a belief that money is only a means to an end.

6. Almost infinite love of art and love of craft.

7. Determination in the face of extreme adversity—even the kind that cannot be bought out, named, or convinced over coffee.

8. A willingness to, occasionally, starve for your passion.

9. Realizing that the romance is an illusion.

10. Believing that, no matter how hard it is, what you are doing now is always worth it because it is always true, and that you really quite wouldn't be as happy doing anything else.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Life of a month-old circus performer

It's been a month exactly since I moved to Tucson to join the pyrotechnic theatre troupe Flam Chen.

Since this blog is going to be repurposed from cataloguing my experiences at Arcosanti to cataloguing my experience as a legitimate "circus performer", it's fair to answer the question most people who know me personally lately.

So, what exactly are you doing in Flam Chen?

Not coming from a strong background in the performing arts specifically, most of my time with them is spent just training. The first thing you notice about yourself as you start to practice something like silk aerial, or even stilts, is that there is a distinct muscle buildup. Especially with aerial, there is nothing you can do if you can't hold yourself on the silks for more than ten seconds, and in any number if different positions. For me, while I am overall a healthy person, but not particularly athletic or strong, this gradual changing of the body has been noticeable—and exciting—for me.

My old training in Aikido kicked in, and in many ways that's what allows me to do any of this at all. The language of the body—understanding what it takes to move a certain way, with a certain amount of force or flexibility, is what one person needs most when approaching something like aerial—though it can be incredibly helpful even in the day-to-day activities of sitting and walking. It's been a long time since I studied Aikido, and I think it shows in how well I speak the language of the body, but aerial training is reminding me of its importance—and now, how it can tie into raw strength, which is a dimension that I've not experienced before. I've probably gained a little weight around the shoulders and in the arms since I got here, even in that short of a time. Probably only noticeable to me right now—but I hope that it becomes noticeable to others who knew me before I moved here. I became a lot healthier at Arcosanti. That trend is continuing here.

Being aware of this physical transition, I've made a point of it to eat well. Aside from my one daily vice, which is coffee, I eat fresh fruits and vegetables, usually sauteed or stir-fried (yes, I cook with fruits—it makes things more interesting), with a variety of different meats and carbs, but usually pastas or rice noodles. Lunches are usually a bagel sandwich with some fruit or yogurt, and because I'm not interested in spending the extra money on soda, I am drinking multiple cups of tea almost every day.

My weak points are my flexibility—I need to be more serious about yoga, and as soon as I'm sure I have the funds to support it, I'll continue my long-paused Aikido training.

I tend to work in cafés. Being a freelancer gives me a lot of flexibility, as long as I can make the ends meet. While I do plan to get my cappuccino machine shipped from the east coast to help save on the cost of coffee, which adds up real fast (I'm not the kind of person that feels justified in walking into a cafe without buying something), I tend to hang out outside the house I rent out of whenever I can. If just for the change of pace and scenery—I've found it difficult to work at home on most days. Sometimes the extra concentration is worth the extra dollars in beverage.

But the life of a month-old circus performer also carries with it the gradual initiations. I think I'm a special case, in a special situation. Flam Chen doesn't really have an audition process, nor much of a tiered structure of who is a performer and who is not. They instead have a pool of people that, from whatever walk of life or for whatever reason, got "sucked in" to the group and their activities. For most of the core members that make up the troupe, the rest is history beyond that. For me, the pattern seems to be similar, but with the fact that I somewhat already had my foot in the door. Being from Arcosanti was the crack, and then talking with the different members and sharing my skillset with them opened that crack further. After I realized that there was an opportunity in this picture, and after realizing it was the one chance in my life to do anything like it, I decided to see if I could pry the door open enough so that I could walk through. Indeed, it opened.

I think the fact that I moved myself from the East Coast to Tucson, from an outsider's perspective seemingly on a whim, may have had something to do with it. For me, it was just the practical reality of the situation—where else could I practice silks or firespinning? But again, from an outsider's perspective, it can be a powerful signal. Is it odd that someone would just decide to move because they were so excited about the group, with no promise of pay nor any real written agreement about what would happen? Is it a sign that others may do the same in the future, if the company has a way to ingest them and find a way to plug them into a potential hierarchy?

These are unanswerable questions. But for me, the steady training and gradual involvement in shows, usually as a stagehand or safety, are the small steps into a future I honestly cannot predict. I know that I am steadily approaching a cliffside—a point where I will have to make choice, so to speak, where I will have to open these wings and see where the wide horizon takes me. All the different elements that make up my life right now—Proteus Creative, Flam Chen, Tucson and its surprisingly broad networking scope, and even other elements that are gradually emerging—all of these are like puzzle pieces, and there is a number of different ways to arrange them. None of the pictures will be wrong—but only one, I think, will be best, and I can only put them together one way, once.

For the first time in my life I feel like I have so many options that there is no clear direction. I know that this is actually just an illusion. That the pieces of this life are gradually getting sewn together by an unseen power or by strange twists of fate that even I could not have guessed, even in my remotest dreams—if anything, the direction may be clearer than ever. It's just in a color I've never recognized before.

There is so much to be done, and a lot that needs to be learned. Somehow I feel like it's just the beginning.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

LED Tattoos. What would you use them for?

Another post courtesy of Wired. This one was just too good to pass up.

How LED Tattoos could make your skin a screen.

To quote:

New LED tattoos from the University of Pennsylvania could make the Illustrated Man real (minus the creepy stories, of course). Researchers there are developing silicon-and-silk implantable devices which sit under the skin like a tattoo. Already implanted into mice, these tattoos could carry LEDs, turning your skin into a screen.

The silk substrate onto which the chips are mounted eventually dissolves away inside the body, leaving just the electronics behind. The silicon chips are around the length of a small grain of rice — about 1 millimeter, and just 250 nanometers thick. The sheet of silk will keep them in place, molding to the shape of the skin when saline solution is added.

Check out the Wired article for a creepy yet awesome video from Philips that decided to make some future-casting as to what this would possibly look like—in this particular video, they explore the more… sensual side of the concept. I've re-posted it here:

Creepy? Maybe. But in my opinion, very cool. Aside from the cheesy and overcommercialized applications, such as turning one of your cheeks into an LED screen you can sell online as mini-billboard advertising. I really wouldn't be surprised if that happened. But of course, if it did happen, I would hope at least that more identity-related applications could be explored. Having images that shift and change according to an implanted device that can sense the chemical compositions in your bloodstream (a.k.a. your emotions) seems to me to just be novel. Human body language is complex and subtle as it is, but some part of the artist in me, which finds its home and lifeblood in self-expression, just thinks this is a great idea, actually. It adds a whole new dimension to physical and personal expression, which is one of many ways to express meaning and memory. Maybe that is actually why, if this existed, it is a tattoo I would actually seriously consider getting.

Of course, it's a can of worms too. I find it funny—things like this are just going to push certain aspects of our society until what we really value becomes more and more oblique. I've been considering lately how innately consumeristic American society is. Obvious? Yes—but down to its very core, I really think that the buck stops at profits. Beyond religion, beyond liberty—I think we really are the self-serving slaves of our own pursuit of wealth. If an answer to a question or a solution to a problem presents capital gain, it usually makes sense above most others. Why is that?

The ancient Maori were the ones who started tattooing, and that was back when tattoos were sacred and had meaning. They related to ancestry, personal milestones, challenges, and triumphs. For the American, would he or she actually find a celebratory, identity-related use for something like this, or would it just be another tool in the "pursuit of happiness?" Or a false display of meaning, like tattoos of the name of an ex boy or girlfriend?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

All Souls 2009

Even though it's been a good week since the Procession, Flam Chen is pretty much looking ahead. Someone described it to me as Flam Chen's New Year—after the Procession, everything starts over, and is fresh again.

But the Procession itself went great. Not without its own hitches and problems. But that's the insider's perspective—for the outsider, who it's really about, it was pretty amazing.

Most of the photos I took are really not that great. So instead I'm just going to post a video that pretty much summarizes the whole event. Enjoy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dr. Megavolt - Or, when can FC do that?

Found this video on Wired. Man in steel mesh suit and birdcage hat, next to Tesla coil, in front of audience, shows how not to get electrocuted. And much fun was had by all!

My only question is—when do we get to do that? I can just see it now… electrified poi spinners.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bike Woes, Glamorous Week

This week has been a troublesome week, but with today, the Saturday before the All Souls Procession, everything should be back in full swing for me. During the early week I got sick. Determined to overcome it quickly my first full week in Tucson, I laid low and pumped myself full of garlic, echinacea, orange juice, green tea, and chicken noodle soup. By Wednesday I was back on my feet, though not fully healed. I had spent some good money on a new bike, my main mode of transportation, just the week before. Finally ready to get out of the house, I woke up in the morning, showered, and was ready to go.

Flat tire.

Apparently Tucson wreaks havoc on bike tires. It is the desert, after all. Burs, needles, all those sorts of things will make short work of any normal bike tire. After getting a ride to the bike shop and fixing the punctured front tire, I ride home and check the tires again that evening, only to discover that the back tire now has a bur of its own.

Patching the tire proves useless. Frustrated, still a little sick, and still looking for work, I decide to lay low again.

Finally, the cold is almost entirely gone, and I've learned a lot about bike tire protection. It took a good $140 of my bank account, but today I should be all set. A set of new tires, both back and front, that have a layer of kevlar and/or nylon on the inside. Then, an inner tube protector layer, and finally, a slime layer inside the tube that will fill in any hole that makes it past the first two layers. It was a little bit of money blown, but in my mind it's worth it. In these situations, you usually get what you pay for—and even though I may still be in a scary transition phase, investing in solid transportation is, in my mind, totally worth the investment. I need to be able to get around for networking, work, and personal sanity. I've found that I'm usually much more productive when working in a cafe or lounge, rather than at home. It forces me to focus.

So, finally settling in a little bit and having scoped out some more places around town (I'm posting this from Epic Cafe), and starting to get some web design work trickling in, I'm starting to feel a bit more confident. I realize though that I really am making my own way here. Of course, I knew that initially from the start. But the practical, tangible reality of that is much rougher, much more cut, than I've known so far.

But everything is working. There is very little I can complain about—in fact, I have a lot to be thankful for. And tomorrow will be a day of days.

Don't worry—I'll post pictures of the Procession. Even though I've been pretty much out of the Flam Chen loop this week, they've all been working non-stop. And with even seeing a few fruits of their labors now, I'll get to see the whole tree, in all its flaming glory, tomorrow evening.